“They used to say, ‘If we find a good Black player, we’ll sign him.’ They was lying.”
—Cool Papa Bell
They tell me Pop Pop was some ballplayer.
Copper toned, tan as the leather of his glove;
squinting on a dirt mound under Virginia skies.
A southpaw they tell us.
Tall and slight—the way a pitcher has to be.
Lanky arms made his wind and release like a slingshot.
Fingers in a question mark for a knuckler.
A bit of tobacco spit made sinkers spiral and drop
over the plate like a yo-yo. His mud ball
would have put the Babe on his ass they say.
At grand mom’s sometimes I stare at his creased
photo fading in the family album and think to myself
He sure don’t look like much
tattered uniform, sleeves coming apart at the shoulders.
Pullman-porters clanking dishware on sleeping cars,
barnstorming every city from Tupelo to Hackensack;
warming up in bullpens beside chicken fence.
Cheers from the crowds became the
cries of eleven children and the docks
at the Navy Yard along the Delaware
where ship stacks blackened the sky.
We played peek-a-boo at his funeral
beneath the pews of 19th St. Baptist.
Too little to care anything about the cancer
he coughed for months.
They say he always joked that when he went,
he would haunt them ballparks the way they did
in the days when him and his tribe were just
shadows of the game.